Is beer good for your health? Here's the healthiest option to pick for your next cold one.

Is beer good for your health? Here's the healthiest option to pick for your next cold one.

Summer is finally here, which means it’s time for barbecues, outdoor picnics and pool parties. And what goes better with grilling up some hamburgers and hot dogs than a nice cold beer?

We bring beers on the boat, pack them in coolers to take to the beach and pick them up to tailgate before a game. There are even dedicated summer ales that pop up during the warmer months of the year.

So how does beer measure up when it comes to our health?

What is the healthiest beer?

We’re sorry to say there’s no magical beer that’s going to fix your health problems – and according to registered dietitian Chris Mohr, it’s one of the fundamental components of beer that’s giving it an unhealthy glow.

Alcohol is one of beer's main draws: It's an ingrained part of social culture all over the world. It's also a toxic substance. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, cancer, a weakened immune system, cognitive dysfunction, mental health problems and alcohol dependency. Alcohol reduces our inhibitions after consumption, but it also has stimulant effects that impact sleep, which can affect overall quality of life.

“It doesn’t matter where the alcohol is coming from, what matters is the overall alcohol, the ABV,” Mohr says. “So whether that’s from beer, whether that’s from wine or whatever other liquor, it’s the alcohol itself.”

The healthiest beer then, according to Mohr, is one that has the lowest ABV, or alcohol by volume. A standard drink of regular beer, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is a 12-ounce beer that contains 5% alcohol. But a quick trip to the beer aisle can have you buying a six-pack with upwards of 8% ABV, or some as high as 18%.

“You think you’re drinking one beer, but you just had two drinks in one can,” Mohr says.

Beer has a significant impact on American culture, especially in the warmer months of the year.
Beer has a significant impact on American culture, especially in the warmer months of the year.

The past decade century has seen the rise of "health" beers that boast electrolytes, antioxidants and key nutrients. Don’t be fooled, Mohr says, most of this is marketing language to get consumers to “justify their alcohol consumption."

“If beer is our source of antioxidants and nutrients then we have a lot of other issues we need to consider,” Mohr says, laughing. “There are a few (beers) that are fortified with various ingredients, but I certainly wouldn’t turn to beer as my choice of nutrition.”

Regardless of how beer is made, it’s the alcohol content that’s going to make the biggest negative health impact.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up beer or alcohol in general to live a healthy diet, Mohr says, though there are certainly health benefits to sober lifestyles. Low-calorie and light beers are healthier options – they’re generally made with more water than standard beers to cut down on the alcohol content. But not everyone likes the taste of light beers, which Mohr says gives you an opportunity to evaluate why you’re drinking it in the first place:

“If you want to have a beer, have a beer – sometimes,” he says.

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Is one beer a day good for you?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate drinking as no more than one drink for women and two drinks for men in a single day. There has been some research suggesting a lower risk of diabetes for frequent drinkers compared to those who didn’t drink, and one study found favorable effects on HDL function, or “good cholesterol” in moderate beer intake.

But there have also been studies indicating no level of alcohol consumption improves health, so there really isn’t an amount of beer you can drink per day that would be actively good for you.

“Is this a ‘never drink alcohol’ message? No, but the benefits of not drinking alcohol certainly outweigh the potential benefits of alcohol,” Mohr says.

Beer can also impact weight; alcohol itself has calories, but it’s not acting alone. We’re more likely to overeat when our inhibitions are lower, and because alcohol is a toxin, your body is going to work to get rid of it first and the other food in your system will take longer to digest.

One beer after a long workday can also affect your quality of sleep if it’s close enough to bedtime. Alcohol is a sedative, but it eventually wears off and can cause you to wake up during the middle of the night.

Because of this, Mohr recommends being selective about when you drink and setting parameters for yourself – maybe that’s only drinking when you’re with friends or a few times a week.

“How do I want to show up, how do I need to show up the next day?’” Mohr says of his consumption decision-making. “So if it's a Thursday night and I want to go to happy hour with my friends, do I have a really important meeting Friday morning? Are my kids going to get up at 6 a.m. and I need to be on my A game?”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the healthiest beer to drink? What to look for at the store.